Sweeney Measure To Establish Financial Literacy Pilot Program Advances

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney which would create a three-year pilot program to provide high school students with financial literacy education was unanimously approved by the Senate Education Committee today.

“A major contributing factor in the current national economic crisis is the fact that too many people don’t know the basics of personal finance,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “It’s easy to fall for the traps of the credit card mentality when you don’t understand the terms and conditions of your credit card, or don’t know the importance of balancing your checkbook. This bill would give students the instruction they need in personal finance to become self-sufficient and hopefully avoid the economic pitfalls which have hurt older generations.”

The bill, S-2211, would require the Commissioner of Education to establish a three-year pilot program to provide high school seniors with financial literacy instruction in selected school districts. Under the bill, the Commissioner would select six districts to participate – two in South Jersey, two in Central Jersey, and two in North Jersey – and would select these districts to represent a cross section of urban, suburban and rural districts in the State. The Department of Education would be required to provide sample curriculum and instructional materials, a grant to each pilot district to offset the cost of offering the financial literacy instruction, and a report to the Governor and the Legislature at the conclusion of the pilot program on the implementation of the curriculum within the pilot districts, and the possibility of implementing a State-wide financial literacy program.

According to Senator Sweeney, national statistics show that students are accumulating debt at an early age, and making unwise financial decisions. A CBS News report in 2007 noted that almost one-third of high school seniors and more than three quarters of college freshmen nationally have already accumulated credit card debt. The Center for the New American Dream found that over half of all college students in the country carry four or more credit cards by the time they leave school.

“I think in some of these cases, the soaring cost of college is driving students to do desperate things to get an education,” said Senator Sweeney. “But in other cases, many students simply don’t understand the consequences of accumulating debt and damaging their credit score. We need to teach our kids that bad financial decisions made today will come back to haunt them in their future.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee before going to the full Senate for consideration.

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